Boost Off-Premise Sales With On-Trend Small Plates

Delivery is booming, spurred in part by the sale of appetizers, sides and small plates. Consumers want to enjoy their favorite shared foods at home, so operators are partnering with third-party delivery services, finding innovative bags and boxes to carry these shareables, and developing processes to ensure the items are hot and delicious when they arrive.

Certain trends are contributing to the emergence of small plates. The menu items became popular in 2008 at the beginning of the recession, says Suzy Badaracco, President of Culinary Tides, Inc. “Everybody was terrified, so they would go out in groups [to restaurants] with family or coworkers and order shareable foods,” she says. “They were not dining solo.”

Sliders topped with fries

Today the economy is not in recession or recovery but in a stall, and current events are driving people to seek comfort in sharing plates of food. That includes shared plates for delivery. “Delivery gives you a sense of control,” Badaracco says. “You can pick exactly what you want. What you end up with is more eating at home, more dinner parties at the house.”

Whether it’s through their own operations or via third-party providers, operators are adapting to this growing delivery universe. Here are some ways they are making sure the off-premises experience is as good as dining in.

1. Utilizing the right packaging

At Eureka!, which has locations in California and other western states, the entire menu is available for delivery through third-party platforms. Among the Eureka! appetizers that are most popular for delivery are:

  • Lollipop Corn Dogs, which feature Polish sausage, sweet corn batter and spicy porter mustard
  • Mac N Cheese Balls, with beer cheese sauce and Fresno chiles
  • Truffle Cheese Fries, with truffle salt, Parmesan cheese, green onion and white truffle cheese sauce.

Fried foods are popular in general, so when it comes to delivering them, Eureka! ensures the foods stay hot and crispy. The establishment uses containers made from recycled beverage bottles. “These boxes are able to be used with food coming right out of any cooking surfaces,” says Jason Hernandez, Vice President of Kitchen Operations. “We have tried to make sure that the hot items in the boxes are in as tight a space as possible without messing with the integrity or the look of the food itself.”

Also popular are the Signature Fries, which are delivered in a separate bag so the steam does not make the other food items soggy. French fries, long a favorite side and a profit driver for many orders, are best if they are crispy on the outside and hot and fluffy on the inside, so operators are limiting hold times and using bags and boxes that offer the right amount of ventilation.

Loaded fries

2. Making it a movable feast for a group

A large platter of food encourages a social meal. “People want to customize their meals, and to make the dining experience a sharing experience,” says Sylvia Matzke-Hill, Culinary Director for Minnetonka, Minnesota-based Famous Dave’s of America. “Small bites or platters are just really the way to go.”

Famous Dave’s currently offers Feasts, large, shareable meals that consist of chicken, pork or ribs, with corn, beans, coleslaw and other sides. For delivery, the Feasts are packaged in a platter with a domed lid, and the platter is placed in a special bag. These details have helped make the Feasts so popular they currently represent 20 percent of sales, a number that points to the growth of shared foods ordered for delivery. Last year the barbecue chain revealed plans to expand off-premise sales, with a strategy that encompasses everything from delivery-only kitchens to adding new items to the side dish menu.

3. Offering shareable ethnic foods

Some global foods that are traditionally served as shareable platters are also well-suited for delivery.

At Curry Up Now, with locations in California, all of the Indian Street Foods and the shareable Street Snacks are available on third-party delivery sites. Among the most popular items for delivery are:

  • Vada Pav, mashed potato fritter sandwiched between an amul buttered bun with garlic chutney and Bombay dust
  • Holy Moly Fried Ravioli, fried cheese ravioli with tikka masala dip
  • Pav Bhaji, a Mumbai street bhaji mash of seasonal vegetables with amul buttered pav bread.

“For hot dishes, we keep them in a hot box until they are picked up,” says Akash Kapoor, Founder and CEO. “Then third-party vendors are expected to store the items in hot bags until delivered to the customer's door.”

Daphne’s, a fast-casual Mediterranean concept in California and Texas, offers an appetizer sampler tray, vegetarian small bites tray, and chips and dip tray on the catering menu. The most popular appetizer items are:

  • Fried calamari
  • Hummus and pita chips
  • Signature Fire Feta sauce and pita chips
  • Spanakopita

“The items included are also available à la carte, but we've packaged them into convenient tray options for those looking to serve a little bit of everything,” says Jennifer Moore, Director of Marketing. “We also try to make sure our catering menu specifically offers items that will hold and serve well, so that helps provide a successful customer experience.”

4. Delivering high quality food

A successful customer experience includes takeout and delivery as well as dining in.

Operators must ensure that foods for delivery are high quality, and that the integrity of the foods is ensured.

Here are some tips that can help:

  • The way the food is arranged is as important in a box as it is on a plate. Paul Altero, Founder and CEO of New Jersey-based Bubbakoo’s Burritos, recommends making sure the foods look presentable in the container. “If the food is handled with care, it looks great when the customer opens the container,” he says. Also, accuracy is important and the order should be double checked by an employee or manager.
  • Donatos Pizza delivers not only pizza but also a large amount of wings and side items. “First, we make sure our delivery areas are established to help ensure success by keeping the drive time from the store reasonable,” says Amos Durbin, Vice President of Franchise Operations for Columbus, Ohio-based chain. “We have also worked to develop ticket timing and driver-routing programs through our IT department.”

Consumers expect the at home experience to be as good as the dine-in experience, so operators are developing innovative ways to make sure consumers are satisfied with their delivery orders. That means everything from innovative packaging to limiting hold times to making sure they partner with the right-third party delivery vendors. Operators are ensuring the food looks good and tastes delicious, even after travel. For tips on how to boost sales through delivery and to download additional resources, download the takeout & delivery guide.